My dear Mrs Rourke,
I am deeply grieved to be the bearer of very sad news, your son was killed whilst on duty last night by a German shell. I am afraid I can hardly express my feelings to you as I should like, but I can assure you Mrs Rourke your son will be mourned and greatly missed out here by all who knew him.
He was one of the best soldiers on the column and certainly the most cheerful and willing to carry out his duty. It may be of some comfort for you to know your son died bravely fighting for his country. He lived about five minutes after he was hit. His greatest friend Ross carrying him to a place of safety under heavy shell fire and was with him to the last. Ross will no doubt write to you later, as he is at present lying in hospital suffering from the effects of gas. If there is anything I can do for you please do not hesitate to write to me. Your son was buried some distance from Lue, but I will see that a proper burial service is read over his grave and a cross erected.
With deepest sympathy from us all
J Webster Lieut.
Could you imagine receiving this letter? It brings me to tears every time I read it.
Mrs Rourke is my great great grandmother, she received this letter in the summer of 1917 after her 20 year old son Dickie Rourke was killed in action. 20 years old, a boy really.
I got a copy of this letter a few weeks ago and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. What did he look like? How tall was he? Did he have a similar sense of humour to mine? Did he play a sport or have a hobby? What was it like living in the trenches? How did he manage to build up the courage to stand up and run over the top of the trenches knowing what an incredible risk he was taking?
Having this letter suddenly made everything seem so real to me. Remembrance Sunday has always been important to me, but this year it’s meant something slightly different, it suddenly seems so much more personal and I’m glad it does. I will never even begin to understand what it was like to fight in the trenches, or be on the ground in wars like so many people today. I will never know what it takes to make life or death decisions when they really count. I will never understand how difficult it is to sleep at night knowing your dad, mum, brother, sister, son, daughter or friend is hundreds of miles away risking everything for others who don’t even know their name, But I have a new found respect for those and the family of those who do.
There is an interesting twist in the story of Dickie Rourke. The letter mentions his best friend Johnnie Ross who rescued him, took him to a place of safety and stayed with him until the end.
After the war Johnnie went to visit Mrs Rourke and while he was there met Dickie’s sister. I don’t know the details of what happened next, but I do know that Johnnie fell in love will Dickie’s sister and they married and had a daughter, my granny Joan, who had a daugher, my mum Pauline, who had me! What an incredible love story.
we will remember them.